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Wi-Fi must bridge in-home broadband deficit

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By Bülent Çelebi, Chairman and Co-Founder, AirTies Wireless Networks

Three big developments in broadband Internet access over the last few years has turned the in-home Wi-Fi network into the new “last mile”. The first has been the continued rapid improvement in speed and QoS over the fixed network to the home.  The second has been the explosion of tablets and large smart phones, which have rendered as useless the in-home fixed line technologies such as coax via the MoCA Powerline via HomePlug AV, or Ethernet. The third has been the streaming of video/OTT by these mobile devices, which is now 70% of total Internet traffic. Even when people are watching TV on the main screen, which can be connected to a fixed network, they are often engaging in second activities with their tablets or smartphones.

This has all led to a big swing towards Wi-Fi, which has become the defacto home network for millions of broadband subscribers around the world who never contemplated wiring their homes up with coax or Ethernet. As a result the spotlight has focused on Wi-Fi as the new last mile for Internet access and in many if not most cases it has been found wanting. Not only does Wi-Fi fail to sustain the broadband speeds delivered to the home router by the service provider, but it also suffers from variations in QoS resulting in part from the activities and movements of other users with their devices. Broadband operators, which often are also the providers of Pay TV, have found themselves in the invidious position of having to support the Wi-Fi domain while having virtually no control over its configuration, never mind performance.

At the same time they have been piling pressure on themselves by continuing to up their headline broadband speeds. In the US, for example, operators have been rolling out 1 Gbps and 2 Gbps broadband services to the home, but with those speeds will come even higher consumer expectations of in-home performance.  Traditional in-home Wi-Fi systems, which rely on just one access point, will no longer be sufficient to ensure consistent quality everywhere in the home.

What this all amounts to is a huge opportunity in the first instance for providers of Wi-Fi technology such as ourselves and then for our customers the operators who can then offer a top class broadband service extending right to the end device. To date solutions have been limited, often confined to deploying a repeater somewhere between the router and the location where access is required, in order to regenerate the signal. This can work sometimes but is usually only a temporary and partial fix to a problem in one part of the house and even then often fails to deliver sufficient QoS for premium video when that is required.

AirTies realized that a better solution was to build a mesh network topology around coordinated multiple Wi-Fi Access Points (APs), rather than rely merely on boosting the signal on a point-to-point basis with a repeater or extender. So we developed our Mesh technology, which combines a gateway with multiple smart and coordinated APs to yield a wireless infrastructure that operates much better than standalone MoCA or HomePlug. In order to deliver the speed and reliability required, while extending coverage to all corners of the house, Mesh is constantly reconfiguring itself according to the location of the devices and the demands of the services being delivered. A typical home would have two or three APs depending on its size and construction, providing multiple paths for extra performance and resiliency. But there is the potential to scale up to six or in principle any number of APs to enable the same combination of coverage, consistency and performance in a large building.

Mesh, we believe, provides the foundation for robust carrier grade Wi-Fi but we acknowledge that broadband services will not stand still and demand ever more of the wireless domain. For this reason we are constantly enhancing our Wi-Fi technology. In cases where very high capacity is required additional Mesh links can be added using fixed line technologies such as Ethernet, MoCA or Powerline. In contrast to traditional implementations the fixed line technology is not being used as a backbone but as additional point-to-point links between the smart AP’s.

Client Steering, which enables greater intelligence over selection of paths through a mesh network, takes account of the constantly changing locations of devices and demands for access. A cornerstone of our strategy is that the client device itself should not be involved in the Wi-Fi routing, so that Mesh and Client Steering are both executed entirely from the network, which enables faster and more accurate decisions. This eliminates the problems of mobile devices sticking to the first AP they connected to and dragging down the entire network performance as they move around the house. Furthermore it ensures that all devices connect to the right frequency, the right AP and at their maximum capability enhancing total network capacity and performance as seen by the mobile device.

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